The rise of welfare?

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Over the past few months I’ve read Winning the Race by John McWhorter and The Burden of Bad Ideas by Heather Mac Donald. One thing that both books assert is that in the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a proactive campaign by the National Welfare Rights Organization to get as many people on the rolls in places like New York City as possible. McWhorter also notes that there seems to have been a special emphasis on recruiting black Americans to heighten and exacerbate the racialized dimension of the problem. But getting poor people on welfare was only a means to an ends, and that ends was bankrupting the government and overturning the established social order. In other words, to overthrow the Great Society welfare state (and presumably replace with something more politically revolutionary). But in any case, the only reason I bring this up it that as I was reading this I was struck by an analogy to the Starve-the-beast philosophy promoted by Grover Norquist, except in the opposite direction. The key goal in both cases is to “break it” so that you can build it anew….

9 Comments

  1. Sounds quite plausible. 
     
    Nowadays, the alternative to “welfare” is SSI. Do you know anything about that?

  2. I’d be curious to know what the evidence is for this statement: “that ends was bankrupting the government and overturning the established social order” 
     
    How do the authors know this?

  3. That’s interesting and (having lived through the era) seems plausible. I remember debates in my elite high school’s classes at the time about how and when to tear the system down. Was it better to make incremental reforms (until such time it should collapse)? Or to apply ever more pressure (until such time as it should collapse)? *Many* people seemed to think that making it all come down was necessary, and would be a Good Thing. 
     
    FWIW, an uncle of mine was a welfare officer in the ’60s and ’70s. He started off as a very angry, radical guy. Signed up full of fervor when LBJ got the Great Society going. Within a couple of years — really, it only took a couple of years — he became a loud reactionary. According to him, lots of lazy goof-off people were taking advantage of the system, faking “back injuries” and emotional problems and such. And lots of the people he worked with at the welfare office had no interest in getting people back on their feet. They really wanted to sign as many people up as possible, partly as a way of making their own jobs seem important and secure, but also partly out of anger at “the system.”

  4. “break it” so that you can build it anew 
     
    No Child Left Behind = Step 1 in whatever the creators truly have in mind, probably privatization of large parts of the public school system. No one’s stupid or ingenuous enough to think the program would come even close to the purported goals.

  5. No one’s stupid or ingenuous enough to think the program would come even close to the purported goals. 
     
    yeah, but remember that as president bush is limited to 8 years. the full “fruits” of NCLB won’t be born until long after he’s gone. platitudes and promises win elections.

  6. I figure No Child Left Behind is a great way to make folks face ugly racial realities. Take the “everyone is equal” ideology right over the top, and demand that all failures be published.  
     
    People will soon see certain common differences in performance — in rich schools, in poor schools, in cities, in towns, and regardless of the race of the administrators and teachers.  
     
    When all of the differences show up the same, folks wil have to ask, “why?”

  7. The welfare rights movement really did exist, but it’s unclear that the goal was to “bankrupt” or ruin the government or society. This was a radical but not a violently revolutionary bunch. I’ve heard the policy version of what they wanted to do was replace the categorical welfare system coming out of the 1910s-1930s, which only provided benefits for particular defined groups who were seen as unable to work (single mothers, the disabled, the unemployed) with a universalist income guarantee of some sort. The idea was that by overloading the categorical system people would see the uselessness of making promises to narrow populations and just universalize income support. A slimmed down version of such a guarantee almost got passed in the early 70s and was backed by Moynihan. 
     
    Of course, the negative impact of what they were doing was to undermine the stigma effect of signing up for welfare and therefore the determination to “make ones own way”. They would probably have claimed that in a racist, etc. society that did not guarantee work to those supposedly willing to work then any negative stigma on welfare was just manipulation of masses by the elites. 
     
    We can dump on them now, but they cost society a lot less than the invasion of Iraq has.

  8. Diana — SSI rolls have exploded as other forms of welfare have been cut back. David Autor and Mark Duggan are two economists who have done some work on this. 
     
    The thing about cash welfare is that short of “letting ‘em starve” it is the cheapest, administratively easiest, and most convenient way to support people who just will not or cannot work. I think that is why there is a tendency for it to pop up again whenever it disappears.

  9. We can dump on them now, but they cost society a lot less than the invasion of Iraq has. 
     
    have you broken down the numbers? e.g., summed up inflation adjusted AFDC from 1970 to present vs. iran 2003 to present? this isn’t even taking into account the societal impacts of removing stigma for not working. 
     
     
    The thing about cash welfare is that short of “letting ‘em starve” it is the cheapest, administratively easiest, and most convenient way to support people who just will not or cannot work.
     
     
    but they wouldn’t starve. people who are on welfare also depend on family support. they would probably just have to default back to this. this is what people in bangladesh for example do (yes, there are people who for various reasons refuse to work there too). of course we’d have to do something about the mentally ill, who are supportless often here in the states.

a